Friday, January 24, 2003

Creative Complaining

I discovered a new use for this blog: It makes me feel better. Writing makes me feel better. A horrendous self-help motif is beginning to emerge. However, this might not sit well with those who may still read my blog looking for amusing and whimsical tales (If you are one of those, I refer you to the archives). I'm not whimsical or amusing lately. Also, by killing the comments and the site meter I have rendered invisible those who might read and then pass quickly on in a snit or from boredom. This reduced the pressure to be amusing and the results are unfortunate.

There's a place for complaining in this world and one can even find an audience for it. But it has to be creative. I once heard that New York city is a place where you can complain 24 hours a day but your complaints have to be original and witty. If you plan to go on for more than 5 minutes, though, your screed has to be along the lines of David Mamet...At the very least, if someone smelly sits next to you on the subway you have to at least find good adjectives to convey their horrible smell when griping to your dinner party guests.

Then there is depression: Nothing bores people more than your depression. Or makes them uncomfortable. Be depressed for too long--watch everyone run away (except for high school girls where you can join a whole clique of the depressed and take turns hearing each others' cruel families, indifferent boyfriends and suicide attempts.) However, you can write a book about and if clever enough you will find a massive audience of people willing to hear about your descent into darkness.

Darkness Visible
The Bell Jar

I think some glamour needs to be involved however. You need to be married to a handsome poet, etc. A bit of fame doesn't hurt either. A postal worker in Topeka, Kansas probably has more reason to be depressed than William Styron (who has a very nice house on Martha's Vineyard, I hear). There's more pointless absurdity and bleakness in most people's lives than you could find in any Kafka story (any office worker knows where Kafka got his material). But no one wants to hear it.

Of course, I guess this is obvious. Anything dopey in ordinary life ceases to be dopey when turned into great art. For a good example of a 'my ex-girlfriend's a real bitch' I refer you to Shakespeare's dark lady sonnets.

I don't have that knack. At the same time, I do think I am a bit talented as a complainer, although only moderately so. I think my talent generally lies in the direction of turning my complaints into universal injustices...I'm not sure if the drama comes across in writing--generally, I need to use hand gestures, facial expressions and vocal inflection to convey the horror of my inability to cope with the most ordinary annoyances of daily life.

I suppose if I really put my mind to it I could make the bad moods lately engaging in print.

I need to be a bit more chipper than I am currently to do that, alas.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Horrifying photographs of the 'mile of death' from the Gulf War

From Rant of the Week...originally from metafilter

That War

I remember going out with my friend Chaka over Christmas break before he was called up...Two of my childhood friends were in the reserves. We were afraid for him and went out for beers...just like grade school (he was a grade school friend). He'd just come back from some kind of training camp before shipping out. He and my friend Brian were nurses. After his training camp, he wasn't afraid. As he explained it, the U.S. had amazing weapons that would demolish the Iraqis but protect almost all American combatants.

Strangely enough, the Army wasn't lying. At the time, I didn't believe it. (In some visceral or primitive way I suppose I 'value' an American life more than an Iraqi one...but I don't think it matters more if an American dies than an Iraqi. If I saw their families on TV it would affect me the same way.)

The Army told the truth that time.

I went to the march on Washington. I didn't know much...I was young. I had this sense that it would not 'work.' I was a weary pessimist, passive rather than a pacifist. People like me don't save the world. So seeing it through my gimlet eyes of youth it all seemed futile--almost a performance rather than an activity that could have any effect. I feel guilty that my approach to dissent is so vapid, but there it is. Although this is my approach to dissent, I desperately, desperately prayed there would be no war.

I remember the ride back from D.C. in the van more than the actual march. Perhaps because I had some kind of peculiar romantic triangle occuring at the time which ended up blowing up in my face. (It was a triangle uncreated by least, mostly.) I had never lived anywhere where it snowed and we had to drive back in the snow. I was terrified by this and even more terrified when we passed a van upside down. The people had been wearing their seatbelts and they were OK. The love triangle distracted me from the important cause and made me nervous. I cringe when I remember its results and my stupidity although it taught me a valuable lesson that perhaps facilitated these many years of unbroken monogamy.

I watched CNN constantly. I had the sense I didn't know what was going on. It made me sick--they presented it as a giant video game. Those 'smart bombs.' Occasionally you would be told that some bunch of Bagdad residents had been bombed accidentally, or a baby formula factory or what have you. I envisioned a carnage I could not see.

I now hate television news and can't watch it.

Then...when it was all over, I heard from somewhere that 100,000 Iraqis had been killed. This number is hotly disputed. The local public access station had a black picture posted with yellow words that said "For the I00,000 Iraqi dead." I sat there thinking: I don't want to live in this world. I cried but not only because I was sad for the dead and all the suffering that was caused but out of frustration and helplessness and shock.

When I spoke to Chaka again he told me it was horrible. He spent the whole time caring for Iraqis. Iraqis were surrendering everywhere. They ran out of water and drank the water in thier radiators and then began to get kidney failure. Some were starving, dying of dehydration, desperate.

He's not a sensitive guy. He is a man's man. He went to so many 'titty bars' in his job as a medical equipment salesman he told me, he got tired of titties.

But even he was disturbed by it.

You might think: How very unrealistic. Won't there be 'necessary' wars? What's 100,000 people anyway? (Or however many it was--we'll never know...Isn't that strange? Etc. Why so shaken over the Persian Gulf War with all the other atrocities that occur, etc.?

Does it seem soft? Sentimental claptrap? Self-indulgent sentimentality? Liberal bleeding heart...whatever, whatever, whatever.

Does that make any sense though? When someone on your street is run over by a car, when a friend or family member dies, when something tragic happens (even if 'necessary') don't we mourn? Aren't we sickened by the idea of tourists shot in Miami or stabbed to death on the stairs in the New York subway? Doesn't everyone go crazy when some teenage girl drowns her baby in a toilet? When some pre-teen shoots down a schoolmate everyone calls for blood.

But a war? When those bombs go awry and hit a bridge with a train on it as it they did in Serbia? Then, we're not supposed to go out into the street raging like madmen at the terror and horror about to be inflicted on others. In fact, this would be dangerous for you personally. Go to crazy over tragedy, injustice, horror or suffering and you could get fired. Lose all your friends. Frighten your acquaitances. Suppose we break down sobbing at work when we find out some school in Bagdad has been bombed 'by accident'? Suppose we rend our clothing and sit in ashes? Or worse yet: Go on a hunger strike?

Don't do that...No, any reaction other than quiet resignation or occasional futile complaint will be socially unacceptable.

I don't see the point of accepting things even if they are unavoidable. It's a good thing I don't need to join AA because I refuse to accept that which I cannot change. I can't forget any of these nightmares that have happened all around us and are still happening. One is supposed to engage in some kind of battle and fight and dissent and so forth...Sure, OK. Still, I can't seem to let that persuade me completely that I am doing anything...or that there is anything, truly, that I can do.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

People's diaries are read posthumously...

Now that this is my diary and it is on the web is it being read humously?

The great thing about this diary is it can't be read posthumously by surviving relatives. Only currently by total strangers.

Dear Diary,

Tonight I drank and smoked and heard about my friend and his lover who is obsessed with a famous rock star who he doesn't know in person but who he thinks he loves instead of my friend.

Tonight I realized something quite funky is going on with my own husband.

Tonight I also realized that although I can't stop worrying about it, that funky thing will be figured out/found out eventually...used to care to know, now that I know I will know eventually I don't need to know now.

Tonight it was cold, very, very cold.

Tonight I remembered 10 years ago getting drunk and smoking cigarettes with that very same friend. If I'd known 10 years ago my life would reach even this temporary holding pattern of moderate settled-ness I would have never been so skeered like I was.

You'd think this would make me realize I don't need to be so skeered now but it doesn't.

Also, if someone had told me that eventually I would pull through I don't think I would have tried so hard and hence would not have pulled through.

Although I did ask the Magic 8-Ball and it tended to give me good prognoses on the whole.

I was very happy yesterday for my other friend's gift of Good and Evil Hot Sauce and a calendario of the Reyes Azteca.

Would I have thought the current situation I am in is tragically mediocre or fabulously glamourous? If I had known the things I was terrified about were not going to happen would I have just moved further into the future and fixated on some terrifying thing in the further distance?

Are there people our there who don't worry or is this the human condition?

That's all for now, dear diary.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Did anyone save/see this article?

It's absurdity haunts me. The Bush admin. claimed that Iraq was not cooperating because it wouldn't show the weapons inspectors where the weapons of mass destruction were...Iraq of course claims it has no weapons of mass destruction. Why aren't you showing us your non-existent weapons?

Has anyone explained what counts as a weapon of mass destruction yet? I'm pretty sure that if the Bush administration finds out there is a stack of newspaper and a pack of matches in Iraq they will claim they could cause a destructive fire.

Didn't you know??? It's an emergency!! WE CANNOT WAIT ANOTHER SECOND!! WE JUST CANNOT WAIT! WAITING IS WHAT WE DID IN THE '90'S!!! This is not the '90's. You know, that was the whole '90's thing--waiting to see if we had a reason before we invaded other countries.

And look where that got us!?! We didn't even have a major war or anything! So we know what the '90's were all about and we're not going to do that anymore...

Never mind, I found the story.

If you have real player you can watch this video...Bush says the whole Iraq thing is like a 'rerun of a bad movie'... Which bad movie would that be. It can't be Dr. Strangelove because that was a GOOD movie.

Maybe it is the re-run of a bad the Persian Gulf War, perhaps?

Millions Face Starvation in Southern Africa

Hey man, I'm no Mother Theresa...

Of course, if you believe Christopher Hitchens, that's a good thing...(I don't, by the way.)

But...Does it ever make you sick that the world is such an abysmal place for some people? Does it ever drive you crazy that this is horrendously unfair?

I'm vain and selfish. I can drop $150 for beauty products...No, I can spend $300 a month for beauty products. And I only gave Oxfam $50.

Plus I'm broke. Please feel sorry for me too! Really, I don't spend $300 on beauty products...Really--not usually. It's just that I could.

But fuck it people! Oxfam does the work. They really are good--they are truly one of the most trustworthy and effective aid agencies. And people are dying. OK, people are always dying. I know, I know. But this is a case where people are dying for no reason other than screwy economics and bad luck.

I don't want to get into guilt mongering and all that other crap. Naturally! I want you to feel sorry for me too even though I am not starving but drive a broken down Toyota and avoid having children because I can't even afford to rent an apartment by myself.

I want your sympathy even though I have it so good...and I don't feel guilty, not really. I enjoy my relative affluence, reasonable security, astounding freedom with great gusto. I'm you can see that even if you are selfish, lazy, self-pitying, on the edge of bankruptcy and utterly self-indulgent in consumer too can give to Oxfam.

It's just this simple: You can help. So what the hell? You have a credit card, I know you do. Sure...we don't have any ready cash on hand--who does?. (Or at least I don't.) Or we give to some other cause. But they accept credit cards! Pretend it's a bathmat or something.


Charge some food for the starving people in might get frequent flyer miles! Just do it, OK?
In point of fact...

I'm an idler, a fiction addict, a confused person with little social utility. But I know I can change.

My new idea: Schedules. Schedules are what made it possible for Anthony Trollope to write all those novels. Getting up early in the morning...working from a set time to a set time. End of spontaneity, fly by night choices.

How long does it take for one's character to become set? When young are we like wet cement but when old like dry? Don't people make striking transformations at later points in their lives? How old was Henry IV when he got it together?

In other words: Can I change? Can I accomplish something spectacular before it's too late? Or rather--something workaday but decent that will ensure future income to myself and my progeny?

Speaking of procreating--Hey...that's something. The irony is that--in spite of all my high test scores and feminism I aspire, dream of...the life of a 1930's middle class housewife. No, make that an upper middle-class housewife. And always have. In high school when the alarm went off I used to think: All I want is to sleep in with my babies.

And the fact was--since my mother had lots of babies and they were younger than me I knew what it was to sleep in with babies. (My parents tended to keep the babies up late at night because they worked late. None of us were early risers as babies. We never went to sleep earlier than 11 p.m.)

Maugham on Fiction Addiction

"Some people read for instruction, which is praiseworthy, and some for pleasure, which is innocent, but not a few read from habit and I suppose that this is neither innocent nor praiseworthy. Of that lamentable company am I. Conversation after a time bores me, games tire me, and my own thoughts, which we are told are the unfailing resource of a sensible man, have a tendency to run dry. They I fly to my book as the opium smoker to his pipe. I would sooner read the catalogue of the Army and Navy Stores or Bradshaw's Guide than nothing at all...Of course to read in this was is as reprehensible as doping, and I never cease to wonder at the impertinence of great readers who, because they are such, look down on the illiterate. From the standpoint of what eternity is it better to have read a thousand books than to have ploughed a million furrows? Let us admit that reading with us is just a drug that we cannot do without...and so let us be no more vainglorious than the poor slaves of the hypodermic needle or the pint pot...."

The Book Bag
Someone else wrote it

Many of the experiences I have needn't be recorded by me...someone else wrote them better.

Someone whose work I was devouring before I left and who I can't seem to stay away from now is Somerset Maugham. His collected stories--I bought it used and discovered it on my bookshelf and that was the end of many hours.

He wrote much more clearly about what legal prostitution is like than I can--although I'll probably make an attempt at some point.

"Iwelei was on the edge of the city. You went down side streetsby the harbour, in the darkness, across a rickety bridge, till you came to a deserted road, all ruts and holes and then suddenly you came out into the light. There was parking room for motors on each side of the road and there were saloons, tawdry and bright, each one noisy...There was a stir in the air and sense of expectant gaiety. You turned down a narrow alley, either to the right or to the left, for the road divided Iwelei into two parts, and you found yourself in the district. There were rows of little bungalows, trim and neatly painted in green, and the pathway between them was broad and straigth. It was laid out like a garden-city. In its respectable regularity, its order and spruceness, it gave an impression of sardonic horror; for never can the search for love been so systematized and ordered. The pathways were lit by a rare lamp....Men wandered about, looking at the women who sat at their windows, reading or sewing, for themost part taking no notice of the passers-by; and like the women they were of all nationalities. There were Americans, sailors from the ships in port, enlisted men off the gunboats...They were silent and as it were oppressed. Desire is sad."

From Rain

Monday, January 20, 2003


I've only been back one day and already I'm addicted to the internet. I hate it, hate this time sucker.

Hmmm. I guess I want to write though? Blog helps writing. I'm unplugging at home. I'll upload the bla bla at work.

Like you care!

Don't you know that I care about you? I do...really. I care, I care.

Please wear sunblock. Eat fiber. Quit smoking. Take vitamins. Eat yummy food.
She wasn't very different than other people. Although it was hard for her to verify this. After all, what might make her quite different was what went on in her mind and as we all know that is a secret realm. There's no telling what went on in the minds of others. The childhood dream of mind-reading had to be abandoned.

Certainly a lot of it is buzz and hum. Something brief and flitting. Occasionally though, there is something so sharp and clear it is enough to structure your life around. For her it was the idea that time was passing rapidly, this was a bleak fact and death was inevitable.

She thought about her death daily. Not in a morbid way but as a way of marking time and because it gave a sense of mystery and poignancy to the most ordinary encounters and experiences. It started around 3rd grade. The obsession with death was in fact very tied up with the idea of time passing. The actual bodily death seemed less significant than the thought that time itself brought with it a kind of death in the form of adulthood.

Adulthood was a death of oneself as a child and children and adults appeared to be so different at that time as to seem different species. There was the caterpillar/butterfly motif. The idea of course is that the caterpillar fears its chrysalis (was there some children's story about this?) but it needn't.

This is all wrong of course. She knew it even as a child for the scam it was--The butterfly is the death of the caterpillar as the adult is the death of the child. An incremental change. Of course, this gave her a reason to doubt she was really a self after all since there would be no point one could mark between 'child' and 'adult' which would be clear or sharp. The childhood self would be like a pile of dirt dissolved by the rain until the flatness of adulthood was all that was left.

The first thing that came to mind (she was only 7 or 8 after all) was the idea that willpower might have some kind of effect. Do children become adults by a failure of attention--or even worse--by the desire to be an adult (which could only be the result of propaganda)? Perhaps if she didn't want it, it wouldn't happen.

Then she later confused time with space. While running around the school playing field she imagined herself grabbing onto a pole and stopping time as she stopped her body from moving. (Both the main characters of 'Bewitched' and 'I Dream of Jeannie' seemed to have the power to freeze people or even to warp time--it was unclear what they were doing exactly).

All to no avail.

So her final solution was to utilize memory--to pay close attention to certain moments. It was difficult to say which were the moments that would stick. Later on, she hypothesized that they were those when she became the most self-conscious--the most aware of herself as a conscious being. She remembered looking through her reflection in the car window at a sky full of stars. She remembered--this was from very early childhood--coming outside clean from a bath and looking at the moon while the chill air cooled her head. She remembered reading a book which affected and moved her so much she built a little shrine out of sticks on the edge of the canal and burnt it. This was from high school. And of course there were the memories of horrible things--humiliations, bodily injuries. But these did not have the same evocative time-freezing quality.

Of course, the idea of recording, marking, taking note of, only increases the unfortunate element of death--which would either involve the utter dissolution and destruction of this history (assuming there is no afterlife) or the lack of interest in any sort of nostalgia (assuming there is an afterlife).

But it was the best she could come up with at the time.